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The Long, Hot March of a Single-A Summer
AUGUST 24, 2015 BY CHRIS GIGLEY
There is summer heat. Then there is Georgia summer heat, with humidity so thick it hangs in the air like the Spanish moss draped from the trees ringing Lake Olmstead in Augusta, where the Single-A GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League play half of their 140-game schedule.
The heat is definitely a chore for players who aren’t used to it, but the biggest challenge is the season itself. They’ve never played 100 games over a summer, let alone 140. Even with college summer ball and showcase tournaments for high school players, nothing comes close.
“I’ve played a lot of games before, but not five months straight,” said Augusta third baseman Jonah Arenado, younger brother of Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan. “I’ve never experienced anything like this, especially in this heat. There’s really no way to get comfortable in it. You have to stay hydrated as much as you can.”
Arenado and his teammates are now in their fifth and final full month of their first full season (sixth if you count spring training). They are all physically spent, whether they admit it to themselves or to anyone else. When they talk about how they feel, it always seems as if they’ve convinced themselves that they’re fine.
“I feel a little better than I thought I would,” said Arenado, convincingly. “I still have days when I wake up really tired, and my legs are sore and I can’t get out of bed. But for the most part I feel pretty good. I’ve taken care of my body pretty well.”
Augusta manager Nestor Rojas said he appreciates his players’ upbeat attitudes, especially in August. He knows how hard the season has been on them.
“Most of these guys played in the Arizona League last year, where you play four games and have an off day,” said Rojas, who managed the Giants’ AZL teams the previous two season. “It is hard to make them used to getting up to play, travel that night, get into the next city and play that night, too. I think it’s the playing time and the travel that eventually gets to you.”
His job is keeping everyone upbeat and ready to play, and the Giants couldn’t have picked a better man for that role. Rojas was a catcher in the Giants’ system from 2003 to 2010, making it to Triple-A before taking the hitting coach job in Augusta in 2011.
“I believe if you stay positive, you will get positive results,” said Rojas, who managed the Arizona League champion in 2013. “I hate losing. I go out there every day and I try to pass to my players the energy I have. I’m here to make them better ballplayers, but I also want to make a statement and I want to be the champion in this league.”
Players say having a regular pregame routine helps them stay focused. Augusta shortstop Evan Potter said that’s been the biggest challenge for him this year. Potter, who signed as a non-drafted free agent last year out of San Diego State, said a steady daily routine helps him feel comfortable going into every game, no matter where or when it starts.
“It’s all about knowing how to manage yourself,” he said. “Know how to manage your body. Manage your time. Manage how many swings you’re getting in the cage before the games. It’s more than just going out there and playing baseball. You just try to find a routine that works for you and makes you feel confident in yourself.”
For a typical 7 p.m. start, players arrive at the ballpark around 3 p.m. Many carpool because not everyone has a car for the summer. Most of the players live together in apartment houses near the stadium, and the setup is exactly like you’d imagine it.
“Some of us are sharing rooms,” said Potter. “I have five roommates, and we have a whole bunch of lawn chairs set up in a living room, so it’s fun. It’s just a bunch of guys living in a house, like college.”
As soon as players arrive at the ballpark, they make a beeline for the clubhouse beneath the stadium to escape the heat. Most bring their own subs and salads for lunch because the spreads at low-A are pretty meager. All those stories about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? They’re true. That’s one reason why most of these guys have trouble keeping on weight.
“My weight has gone up and down,” said Arenado. “I went into spring training at around 230 and I’ve lost eight pounds. I’ve been around 220 for a little while. You sweat so much you’re bound to lose weight, but I knew this was coming. You try to prepare for it in the offseason.”
Back in April or May, players trickled out onto the field early to take extra batting practice and throw bullpens, but not now. Not in this heat. They wait until scheduled batting practice about three hours before the game, and it’s a lazy affair set to the classic rock radio station blaring over the public address stadium.
“You can’t blow it out at three or four or five in the afternoon,” said Delmarva Shorebirds infielder Steve Wilkerson. “You’ve got to save as much energy and focus as you can for 7 p.m.”
Rojas said the Giants have a daily pregame schedule the organization likes all its minor league affiliates to follow, but he said he made a few adjustments after the first half to make things easier on the players. Before the Sally League All-Star break, for instance, the GreenJackets would have had to be at the park closer to two.
“I try to adjust every day to help these guys,” said Rojas.
Most of the adjusting comes on the road. Rojas recalled a 16-inning game the team played in Lakewood, N.J., earlier this season. It finally ended at 2 in the morning, and the Jackets had a four-hour trip to Salisbury to begin a series with the Shorebirds that night. Rojas told the team to sleep in, have lunch and catch the bus to the field at five. No batting practice.
In Augusta, the Shorebirds’ bus pulled into the Lake Olmstead Stadium parking lot just as the GreenJackets started batting practice, around 4 p.m.. Wilkerson wasn’t looking forward to the ride back to Maryland that night. He was still a little sore from the trip south.
But being sore is typical. Wilkerson, a 2014 eighth-round pick of the Orioles out of Clemson, said the Shorebirds had been hit hard by injuries all year. The team struggled to stay around .500 all season long. No one, he said, was 100 percent at this point.
“How you feel really depends on the day,” he said. “Sometimes you have something tweaked here and there. You just try to take it day by day and try to manage your repetitions and stay on top of things with the trainer to keep yourself in the lineup.”
That goes double for pitchers. Right-hander Matthew Grimes, the Orioles’ 2014 18th-round pick, said the schedule he’s following now make his time at Georgia Tech seem like a country club.
“I’m pitching more than I ever have,” said Grimes, who made 12 starts in his last season with the Yellow Jackets, a total he passed this season way back in June. “In college I started every seven days and now it’s every five days. I’ve really started to figure out my body and how to adapt to the travel and pitching every fifth day.”
And that daily routine? It’s even more crucial on the road, said Wilkerson, because every other part of the day is thrown completely out of whack. Buses break down. Hotels forget wake-up calls and road roommates snore. The food options aren’t always great.
“You drink a lot of protein shakes and eat a lot of protein bars,” said Wilkerson.
And even then, players have a tough time keeping their weight on. No player can prepare for things like that or even imagine dealing with them until he finally goes through it himself. Arenado said his big brother told him it’d be like this. Nolan played in the South Atlantic League, too, for the Asheville Tourists in 2010.
But how can you prepare yourself for having to get up early for one of those odd weekday day games after a night game that went extra innings? You can’t, said Potter.
“When you get out there between the lines, it’s just baseball,” said Potter. “That’s what you have to think about. You just have to go out there and do your best. That’s all you can really do.”
And that might be the most important lesson players learn in low-A. Succeeding in pro ball depends a lot more on how mentally strong they are than how physically fit they feel.
“When things aren’t going well, you have to remember it’s a process and you have time to bounce back,” said Arenado. “Just because you’re going through a slump doesn’t mean you’re going to stay in it forever. Sometimes it feels like that when you’re in it. But it’s a long season.”
They can tell themselves that all they want. The only way they’ll know they can handle it is by experiencing the peaks and valleys. Everyone has his own way of dealing with it.
“Having a short-term memory and keeping the same approach is the key,” said Arenado. “If something doesn’t go right one day, it doesn’t mean it won’t go right the next. You just have to stick with a positive mindset going into the next day or next at-bat.”
Potter said it helps that the GreenJackets are in a playoff race.
“We know where we want to be at the end of the year, so that keeps you going,” he said. “Trying to advance to the next level keeps you going, too. You know the Giants are watching everything you’re doing, so you have to be on top of your game all the time.”
But even on a non-playoff team like the Shorebirds, the players are putting in their final kick like a runner nearing the finish line of a marathon. They all want to finish strong, and when they look back when it’s all over they’ll declare the season a victory no matter what their stats are like.
“When I set foot on the field, I don’t want to have any regrets,” said Grimes. “I tell myself I’m going to max out. That way when I look back at the experience, I don’t wish I played harder. I want to bring honor to my family and my community where I’m from. I represent all that. In my mind that’s what keeps me going.”
And now that it’s almost over, Grimes and other first time full-season players are looking back on the experience with a sense of wonder that they’ve actually made it.
“You come a long ways to get here,” said Grimes. “Now that it’s on the horizon, you look back to spring training and realize that getting to this point is huge. It’s been a grind. I’m not going to lie. But to be able to make it through this is such an awesome experience. I definitely feel like I’ve been part of something that’s bigger than I am.”
The other thing Grimes is happy about is knowing what to expect next season. He said once you make it through 140 games, you feel like you can make it through just about anything. Like a nine-hour bus ride into the teeth of Southern heat.
“At this point I feel like I’m a veteran planning for these long trips,” said Grimes. “You need to think ahead and bring along decent food, because in the Sally League there are some long trips.”
Wilkerson feels the same way, and not just about long road trips. About everything.
“Now I know what I need to do over the winter get myself ready for next season, and that’s a good feeling,” he said.
It beats those humid summer afternoons in Augusta, that’s for sure.
August 24, 2015
Setting Up the Spike
Four years into his professional career, Oakland’s Jose Torres was still a project. He’d shown some feel for pitching, but his mechanics were messy and his numbers had gone backward in his second spin through short-season ball. The A’s weren’t sure what to do with him in 2015.
But Torres arrived a new man at spring training. His back leg, long an anchor dragging through the dirt behind him, flowed smoothly as he completed his delivery. Even better, his ho-hum fastball had a new gear.
“He showed up throwing 94, 95,” said Garvin Alston, Oakland’s minor-league pitching coordinator. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
All teams want their pitchers to throw hard. Today’s low run-scoring environment correlates strongly with a league-wide uptick in fastball velocity and seemingly every club has a flamethrower or three on its roster. Some of them threw 96 from the day they signed a professional contract. Others are developmental successes, the product of mechanical instruction and hard work from both the player and the development staff. Not all teams develop hard throwers in equal measure, however. Some are better at developing velocity than others, and the clubs that proactively build arm strength and emphasize throwing hard as part of the developmental journey get the most gas from their farm system as a whole.
Trite as it sounds, nobody develops a better fastball without working hard away from the field. Take Torres: Last summer, coaches identified his leg drag as a mechanical flaw that slowed his momentum, affected his release point, and limited his velocity. To fix it, Torres spent months reworking his motion, meticulously practicing it in shadow drills without a ball and while he played catch before games. After working on it all winter and spring, he’s still improving—his pitching coach in Beloit, Steve Connelly, thinks he has more velocity in him—and the timespan underscores the discipline required to improve. Not everybody can or will put in the work.
The Cleveland Indians try to help their prospects do that work, proactively training their pitchers to throw harder. Increasing velocity is one of the club’s biggest developmental objectives, and to make it happen, the Indians have implemented one of the sport’s most innovative training philosophies. “We try to enhance our pitchers’ flexibility, explosion, and athleticism,” says Ruben Niebla, the team’s minor-league pitching coordinator. Listening to Niebla, it’s apparent that the days of the pitcher as a non-athlete are long gone. In today’s game, a pitcher’s coordination, work ethic, and athleticism are practically as important as his breaking ball, and all three attributes are integral to adding arm strength: “If we are able to get the most out of their bodies then we feel that we will be able to get max velocity out of their arms,” Niebla says.
The work to develop velocity begins in the offseason, when pitchers are encouraged to add strength and are allowed to follow their own throwing programs. Through it all, Cleveland’s coaching staff stays up to date with what each of their pitchers are doing: “It’s important that our coaches have open lines of communication with the players,” Niebla says. “The younger the player, the more instruction and guidance they will need.” The obvious model is Trevor Bauer, who, to the consternation of his previous employer in Arizona, has long followed his own conditioning program. But where the Diamondbacks squirmed at Bauer’s unconventional regimen, the Indians embraced him: Pitching coach Mickey Callawayeven flew out to Driveline Baseball, Bauer’s training facility in Seattle, to learn more about the program.
All of Cleveland’s minor-leaguers participate in drills to help them throw harder. The Indians don’t have any inhibitions about long toss and they let their pitchers play catch without distance restrictions. (The club does monitor the total number of throws its pitchers make.) Pitchers use crossover symmetry bands to strengthen their elbows and shoulders and follow an in-season throwing program with weighted balls to help them maintain and enhance their arm strength. The drills also condition players for the rigors of big-league work. “We’re building their bodies to be able to handle the workload and we push pitchers to give their maximum effort,” Niebla says.
Niebla makes it clear that the Indians don’t seek velocity at the expense of everything else. Much of the mechanical work the organization’s coaches implement in their pitchers is designed with command and consistency in mind, and Niebla certainly doesn’t want anybody sacrificing their control for an extra tick on the gun. “Adding a single mile- or five miles-per-hour is important but not the difference-maker for being a successful big-league pitcher,” he says. For all of the emphasis on command, though, the simple truth inherent in throwing hard pushes the Indians to get the most velocity they can out of their pitchers. “Subjective and objective data prove that velocity gives you more room for mistakes in command and it helps with missing bats. All pitchers across the board benefit from velocity.”
The St. Louis Cardinals share similar values with Cleveland when it comes to developing pitchers. Chief among them is a willingness to embrace pitchers with their own workout programs, an emphasis on athleticism, and a focus on keeping pitchers healthy. The three traits work hand in hand.
St. Louis’ minor-league pitching coordinator, Tim Leveque, says that the Cardinals have few hard-and-fast rules for development. “We really try to individualize. Timing, space, tempo, and rhythm are universal pitching principles, but you have to know a guy’s mental approach to pitching, his age, his routines.” That philosophy not only applies to a pitcher’s mechanics, but also his workout program. Asked about how he’d handle a pitcher like Bauer in his organization, Leveque said, “You have to want to pick his brain. You don’t go in there with an iron hammer and say, 'You can’t do this!'” He paused to chuckle. “You have to get to know why he does what he does. You have to have an open mind.” That mentality allows the Cardinals to foster pitchers in a supportive environment, and it also potentially gives the team insight into how players with unconventional regimens succeed.
Leveque frames the velocity discussion differently than Niebla—“I look at it through the prism of maintaining velocity”—but he and the Cardinals know the importance of throwing hard and have honed in on athleticism as a particularly desirable trait. For St. Louis, it’s not just that athletic pitchers can get more out of workouts or make mechanical adjustments quickly: They might also be better bets to stay healthy.
As average fastball velocity has risen over the past decade, the frequency of major arm injuries and Tommy Johnsurgeries has exploded alongside. Teams training their pitchers to add velocity do so with the knowledge that they arestretching the physical limits of elbows and shoulders to the breaking point. Nobody knows how to halt the epidemic, but the Cardinals are hoping that signing good athletes can help. “We feel strongly about drafting and signing athleticism,” says Gary LaRocque, St. Louis’ farm director. For the Cardinals, it’s important that their pitchers don’t feel pressured to overexert themselves, and having the athleticism to perfect their deliveries is crucial. “We want them to stay within the realm of their own athleticism, within their own body movements” LaRocque adds. As more and more hurlers work near the top of the theoretical velocity band, it has become increasingly important for them to have clean throwing motions and to develop good throwing habits quickly.
Leveque’s open-minded approach suggests that there isn’t a roadmap or a “right way” to developing velocity. From a macro perspective, that seems right: Each individual pitcher is too different for a velocity blueprint to function at an organizational level. Rather, the teams that develop velocity best are the ones that intentionally build arm strength and provide flexible training plans for their pitchers. It stands to reason that these clubs will see more pitchers enhance their fastball than clubs taking a more conservative approach to development. In fact, muddled as it is, there is evidence to support this theory: Of the 30 hardest-throwing starters in baseball, the Indians helped develop four of them.
The A’s, by contrast, only have one in the top 50. Jose Torres’ development demonstrates the inherent unpredictability in getting a prospect to throw harder. Not many pitchers add heat to their fastball once they turn professional, and plenty of organizations make a calculated decision to emphasize command, control, and smooth mechanics over a potentially futile effort to coax more arm strength out of their pitchers. The A’s are one such club.
Oakland’s minor-league pitchers have a strict throwing program geared toward helping them develop and maintain clean mechanics. Pitchers are not allowed to throw long toss any farther than 150 feet—“We start to see a pitcher’s mechanics break down around 130 feet,” Connelly says—and all of them perform the same shadow drills and warm-up routines designed to make their throwing motion second nature. Even pregame bullpen sessions are regimented. The goal is to help pitchers learn to align their upper and lower halves in a repeatable motion while improving their command and feel for sequencing. “Everyone wants velocity,” Alston says, “but we won’t put it over movement or command, things that make you a complete pitcher.”
That’s not to say the A’s ignore potential velocity climbers. “We look for guys with good hand speed, guys who can put a lot of backspin on the ball,” Alston says, referring to the types of pitchers who could benefit most from cleaner mechanics. Potential velocity climbers aren’t singled out for special drills that soft-tossing prospects don’t have access to, though. “Our training philosophy doesn’t vary depending on the player or level,” Alston says. “It’s our job as coaches and instructors to give everybody the same information.” As with Torres, an uptick in velocity is often the byproduct of improved mechanics rather than a developmental goal itself.
None of this means that the A's and other conservative teams are destined to develop worse pitchers: There’s more to pitching than velocity, and an emphasis on command and sequencing certainly could help middling prospects elevate their performance just as much as an extra tick on their fastball would. But as the league strikeout rate surges and the average heater clocks a little faster every year, there’s real value in knowing how to develop velocity effectively. Not every pitcher who joins a major-league organization has the potential to throw harder. Plenty of them do, though, and the team that can best extract velocity from its personnel will hold a tangible advantage over the rest of the league.
How Paul Goldschmidt turned himself into a perennial MVP candidate
Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images
BY BEN REITER Wed Aug. 19, 2015
This story appears in the Aug. 17, 2015, issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.Subscribe to the magazine here.
Paul Goldschmidt is many things—a destroyer of baseballs, an unlikely academic, a pioneer of performance enhancement involving a polarizing comedic manchild—but one thing he is not is particularly fast. According to one scout's stopwatch, the Diamondbacks' first baseman runs from home plate to first base in 4.4 seconds; the quickest righthanded batters, like Mike Trout, make it in four flat. And yet, if you glanced at baseball's stolen bases leader board at the end of the first week of August, you would have discovered a clear outlier. The top nine base stealers were all outfielders or second baseman, and on average they stood 5'11" and weighed 183 pounds. Tied for 10th, having successfully stolen a career-high 19 bags in 23 attempts, was Goldschmidt, all 6'3" and 225 pounds of him.
Goldschmidt, now 27 and in the second year of a $32 million contract that will extend through 2018, was a lightly recruited high schooler who ended up at Texas State, a Cape Cod League reject, an eighth-round draft pick and a prospect who never once appeared on any Top 100 list. But he has become a topflight base thief in the same way that he developed into a Gold Glove first baseman and an annual Triple Crown threat: via the relentlessness of his will.
"People who hit like him are usually content with getting on base, hitting a homer here, driving in a run there," says A.J. Pollock, Goldschmidt's whippet-thin teammate and one of the men above him on the steals leader board. "But if there's another element of the game out there, he's looking to gain an edge on it."
Working with Dave McKay, the Diamondbacks' baserunning guru, Goldschmidt has perfected his ability to retreat safely back to first on a pickoff attempt, smoothly pivoting instead of turning and leaping. "The clubhouse guys get mad," says Goldschmidt—who seems genuinely contrite about it—because he so often stains and rips his uniform during practice. He also studies pitchers' tells. If a lefthander refuses to glance at first base when he is planning a pickoff attempt, and stares a base runner down only when he intends to deliver a pitch, Goldschmidt notices. This season the average distance of his leads, according to StatCast, is 11.73 feet, the game's 13th largest. "With me not being the fastest guy, there's a lot of bang-bang plays at second," he says. "A half step is going to help." Of his 19 steals, a half dozen have come without a throw.
Goldschmidt's baserunning is only one reason why his name ought to be included in the national conversation about the game's best all-around players, alongsideBryce Harper, Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey and Josh Donaldson. Scouts, however, saw those stars coming—all were high draft picks—and they like to talk about why they didn't do the same with Goldschmidt. "We can say we missed this, missed that, and maybe we did," says one. "But I think that's a disservice to the player. Clearly he's improved, gotten better, changed his game, done what is necessary to become what he is now, which is this crazy force. We play this game, 'What did guys get wrong?' Well, what did the player get right?"
****Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tony La Russa managed his first big league game in 1979 and retired in 2011, not long after winning that year's World Series with the Cardinals. In the spring of '14 he became the Diamondbacks' Chief Baseball Officer. One afternoon in early August, the 70-year-old sits in a recliner in the visiting manager's office atNationals Park, a folded crossword in his lap and his club's best player on his mind.
"For a while now, professional players have been distracted by fame and fortune," La Russa says. "Which means that once you get some fame and you get some fortune—yeah, that's pretty good. You start sitting on the couch. When you see a guy that has just exemplary drive, if that's the word you want to use, it stands out. Goldy, he can't be better than he is."
with his family. His great-grandmother, Ilse Goldschmidt, was an heiress to one of the largest printing companies in Germany, but in 1938 she and her husband, Paul, and their five-year-old son, Ernie, fled the Nazis and reestablished their lives in Boston. (While his father's side of the family is Jewish, Goldschmidt and his two younger brothers, Adam and Robert, adopted their mother's Christian faith.) "They didn't have two nickels to rub together," says Goldschmidt's father, David. Ilse sold candy door-to-door in Brookline, and Paul worked in the food industry; by the 1960s he had opened a luncheonette, called Eatwell Restaurant, on Boston's St. James Avenue.
Ernie also worked in the food business, owning a series of restaurants and catering operations. David would go into flooring, and he and his wife, Kim, were eventually able to move their young family into the affluent Houston suburb of The Woodlands. "I think the best way to put it is, we didn't need for anything, but we wanted for things," says Paul.
By high school, what Goldschmidt wanted more than anything was to excel at baseball. "He was always a good athlete growing up, but there were always better players," says David. Goldschmidt looked thick and stiff—a graceless fielder whose swing, though productive, didn't appear likely to work at higher levels. "People would say, 'Well, you know, his swing's a little long, is he going to handle good pitching?'" recalls Ty Harrington, his coach at Texas State.
As a college junior in 2009, Goldschmidt batted .352 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs in 57 games, but just two pro scouts bothered to show up at his last conference tournament game. One of them was Trip Couch, who had once coached Goldschmidt in a high school summer league and kept filing positive reports on him to the Diamondbacks. Still, Couch only had a third-round grade on Goldschmidt ("Looking back—well, that's idiocy," he says), and watched as the Diamondbacks selected five corner infielders before choosing Goldschmidt 246th overall.
Goldschmidt hit from the moment he became a pro—he batted .334 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 74 games of rookie ball in 2009—but he wanted more. "I remember him talking to the defensive coaches and saying, 'I want to be a Gold Glove first baseman,'" says Alan Zinter, a hitting instructor who worked with Goldschmidt in the minors. "This big, burly-looking lumberjack guy with not the quickest of feet, not the best glove. It's almost like, Yeah, right."
Two years after he was an eighth-round pick, Goldschmidt made his Diamondbacks debut. Two years after that he became an MVP candidate. Now he is a Triple Crown contender—with a .337 average (first), 22 homers (sixth) and 79 RBIs (second) through Sunday—and the club's unquestioned leader. "When your best player is also your hardest worker, well, it's gold," saysCliff Pennington, an infielder who was recently traded from the Diamondbacks to the Blue Jays.
Goldschmidt's teammates try to emulate his disciplined daily routine, which is detailed down to when he takes his coffee: He pours it before he takes his pregame shower, knowing that it will be at just the right temperature when he emerges. "I should get someone on the team to mess with him and crank up the temperature on the coffee maker," jokes his wife, Amy, whom he met during study hall when they were Texas State freshmen.
His humility, which teammates insist is authentic, has made him a notoriously predictable quote among those who cover him. "He'll hit a two-run homer and come in the dugout, and the first thing he does is tell whoever was on base, 'Good job, nice at bat, nice walk, way to be on base,' or something," says pitcher Josh Collmenter. "What he is doing is secondary to what everybody else is doing."
For Goldschmidt, there is always more to do.
****to: Norm Hall/Getty Images
If you were to have passed through the busy lobby of the Westin hotel in Times Square on one day in the summer of 2013, you might have noticed a tall man with thick, heavily veined forearms tapping furiously on his laptop. The man was Goldschmidt, but he wasn't making notes about the tendencies of opposing pitchers, as he often does. He had homework to do, and the Wi-Fi in his room wasn't working properly.
When Goldschmidt was drafted from Texas State, after his junior year, he had a 3.8 GPA as a finance major, but he was 10 classes short of his degree. So, after his big league job became secure in 2012, he set out to finish what he had started, taking courses online from the University of Phoenix. "I get asked, 'Did your mom make you go back?'" he says. "It was nothing like that. I wanted to do it."
He graduated in September 2013 with a degree in business management. A month later he completed a season in which he batted .302 with 36 home runs, 125 RBIs and 15 steals, and came in second to Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP balloting. "On flights, guys would be playing iPad games, poker, listening to music, talking," says Pennington. "He'd sit up front, so he's away from all the noise, and did his stuff."
Goldschmidt's education only deepened his desire to expand his horizons, in ways that are not always obviously related to baseball. When he was growing up, his family did not have enough money to travel much, but he and Amy have become passionate globe-hoppers, traveling to Australia, New Zealand and Europe in recent off-seasons. On game days on the road, he likes to rise as early as he can to explore; in Washington in early August, he visited the Holocaust museum before one game, and the Air and Space museum before another.
He has also become an avid reader. His tastes run toward tomes that concern leadership and overcoming adversity, such as Jon Gordon's The Carpenter and Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. "I'm still early in my journey of reading, as I really didn't do it much growing up," Goldschmidt says. He tries to apply some of the lessons from his reading to baseball, such as those he derived from Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage.
"The premise of the book is that if you're happy, you're more likely to have success," he says. "There's a study the book talks about that found that when people are happier, their eyes actually work better, they can see better and focus easier." Hitting, of course, is largely a matter of seeing, and so Goldschmidt began a ritual in which, 20 minutes or so before games, he sits in the dugout and recites quotes to himself from one of the things that makes him the happiest: Billy Madison, the 1995 Adam Sandler comedy that he has watched nearly 100 times.
Nobody took any notice of Goldschmidt in the Westin lobby, and in fact, he can't think of one time he's ever been recognized in an American city other than Phoenix. Even in his adopted hometown, waitresses will sometimes look at his credit card and tell him he shares a name with their favorite ballplayer. He was shocked one day this past winter, while he and Amy were traveling in Rome, when a couple from Arizona approached him for a photo. "That was so cool," he says. "I know a lot of people look up to major league baseball players, but I'm just not thinking of myself like that."
Goldschmidt did receive more All-Star votes this year than any other National Leaguer save Harper, Posey and Todd Frazier, but a number of factors—that he was a late bloomer, that he plays in Arizona, that he shuns attention—have kept him from attaining genuine superstardom. That is not the case within his own clubhouse, where he is most often compared with another allegedly slow and stiff first baseman who by the force of his desire overcame a low draft position to become a legend.
"The highest compliment I can give him is that he's so much like Albert Pujolsthat it's a credit to both of them," says La Russa, who managed the future Hall of Famer for 11 years in St. Louis. La Russa calls his former first baseman Albert P. Pujols, with the "P" standing for "perfect." He calls his current one Paul G. Goldschmidt; the "G" stands for "greatest." "You want them to have their own distinct thing," he says.
Pujols's perfection, of course, was confirmed by his many outstanding postseasons. Goldschmidt has so far participated in just one, when he was a rookie in 2011; he hit a grand slam in the NLDS. "My greatest memory is when we clinched to play in the playoffs," he says. "To celebrate and do the champagne thing with 25 guys, our coaches, front office, that was the coolest thing ever. Just to see the pure joy of them and getting to experience that with everyone else, rather than, O.K., I had a good game, let me go home and let that soak in by myself."
The Diamondbacks, who were 54–56 through Sunday, almost certainly won't repeat that experience this year. But they are young and getting better, and their motivation extends beyond a desire for organizational success. Says La Russa, "For the world to know how good Goldy is, they gotta see him in October."
Until that happens, Goldschmidt will likely remain out of the spotlight, steadily improving upon what to most players—and most people—would seem to be good enough.
Duffy said that McGehee pulled him into a small room in the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field and told him: "No hard feelings. You did what you had to do. Always work hard. Play with a chip on your shoulder. Realize it can be taken from you in a Those words resonated with Duffy, who -- like Kang -- has emerged as a leading threat to the Cubs' Kris Bryant for NL Rookie of the Year (the 170-pound Duffy actually entered the weekend with a higher slugging percentage than the 215-pound Bryant).
McGehee, twice designated for assignment and eventually released by the Giants, continues to rave about the rookie who drove him out of San Francisco.
"He did what you hope every young guy does when he gets a shot," said McGehee, who moved on to the Marlins. "I really respect the way he goes about his business and that he has had to earn everything he's ever gotten.
"On top of all that, he can play. I can't say enough good about the guy. I'm a fan."
Even NFL's progressive rookie symposium can't hide warts of ugly culture
By Eric AdelsonAugust 23, 2015
The NFL took down a video from NFL.com on Sunday that should have never been up. It imparted a message to 2014 rookies that they should never have heard. It featured a "life lesson" that should never have been given.
Now the question is: what "life lesson" is the league, not the rookies, going to learn about this video.
In the video, former NFL great Cris Carter, standing in the gold Hall of Fame jacket every rookie aspires to someday wear, spoke about the need to find a "fall guy" to take the heat and perhaps the jail time when a player in the league runs afoul of the law.
"If you all got a crew, you got to have a fall guy in the crew," Carter told the new NFL players last year. "If you all have a crew, one of those fools got to know, he's the one going to jail. We'll get him out."
A place in the NFL requires an elevated sense of accountability, not a scapegoating scheme. Designating a "fall guy" not only places a false value on a player's worth, but it devalues the worth of a friendship. It turns an athlete into a commodity; it turns a relationship into a transaction.
"This was an unfortunate and inappropriate comment made by Cris Carter during the 2014 NFC rookie symposium," the NFL stated after a torrent of social media outrage on Sunday. "The comment was not representative of the message of the symposium or any other league program. The league's player engagement staff immediately expressed concern about the comment to Cris. The comment was not repeated in the 2014 AFC session or this year's symposium."
It wasn't just the comment, though. Carter brought then-rookie Teddy Bridgewater onstage and basically turned him into a piggy bank.
"Every dime that comes into Teddy is going to be earned by him in this body," Carter said. "I let my homeboys know, if you all want to roll like this, then I need to know who's gonna be the fall guy, who's gonna be driving, because y'all is not going to all do the right stuff now, so I gotta teach you how to get around all this stuff."
The assumption is that Bridgewater or his "crew" will get into trouble. So the message isn't about making the right decisions, it's about how to "get around" it when those inevitable poor decisions are made.
This was conveyed by a man wearing a Hall of Fame jacket – a man with knowledge of how to get where every rookie wants to go.
One of the sad ironies about this is that Bridgewater has been nothing but a leader, raised by a strong mother who beat breast cancer, and has stepped into his new NFL responsibility as a Vikings quarterback with maturity and grace. Carter and Warren Sapp, the supposed teachers in this "lesson," can't claim that kind of immaculate off-field résumé. Carter and Sapp may have needed fall guys; Bridgewater, we can hope, never will.
Former All-Pro Carl Banks reacted strongly to Carter's speech on his Twitter feed, writing among other things, "Tell a group of 1st time millionaires to [expletive] up then ruin his friend's life SMFH!" Banks is right: the higher salary should raise the standard too, not lower it.
But to lay all the blame on Carter is to make the same mistake the NFL did in allowing that video to remain on its site for months. The problem is not only Cris Carter; it's the NFL culture. Too much of that culture is built on the idea that these athletes are elite, and above-the-law, and to be protected (off the field) at all costs. Fixers in the form of team security officials and off-duty cops are hired and expected to erase a player's mistakes. Everyone should take the fall before a career is put in jeopardy, according to this line of thinking. One of the most unsettling examples happened last year, when Janay Palmer was encouraged to apologize publicly for her role in Ray Rice's assault on her in a hotel elevator. She was cast as the "fall guy."
The unspoken message is that with the proper insulation, mistakes won't stick. The truth is it's the opposite. A fall guy, or a fixer, or even an unscrupulous agent, can set up a player not for safe passage through the NFL, but for catastrophic self-damage. On the field, coaches stress from the very first practice that the game film will give you away and there's no place to hide from your mistakes. Blaming a "fall guy" in a football setting would be met with a lecture, a benching, or even walking papers. Off the field? Blame away.
Carter later issued an apology Sunday evening on Twitter, saying, "Seeing that video has made me realize how wrong I was. I was brought there to educate young people and instead I gave them very bad advice. Every person should take responsibility for his own actions. I’m sorry and I truly regret what I said that day."
The rookie symposium is supposed to be a sign of a reformed culture, not a reminder of the narrow-minded one. The NFL's department of player engagement, which is behind the rookie symposium, is actually geared toward chopping down the idolatry of NFL life. This workshop is meant to help players make the right decisions, which is why, at least according to the NFL's statement, Carter was pulled aside after his speech.
But even in a setting devoted to undoing the myths of NFL life, a myth was given new breath by a Hall of Famer. If it weren't for retired San Francisco 49er Chris Borland, a conscientious objector to Carter's message who is no longer playing the sport, perhaps no one would have noticed the video and the message.
It's up to younger athletes like Borland and Bridgewater to stand for something different in a new era of awareness and accountability. If the NFL still can't get it right after all these months of off-field failure, hopefully the next generation will.